Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 10 of 22

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It’s hard to believe the energetic, robust man who had instructed her in the art of negotiation, taught her how to hold her own in a card game of considerably high stakes, and had showed her how to operate both a revolver and a pistol is now limited to a wheelchair. Her heart breaks at the half-man he appears to be: the left side of his face is slack and his left shoulder slumped. His left arm is curled up in his lap, his hand loosely fisted, useless. Alice hadn’t seen the ruins of the Shuchish royal city, hadn’t walked through the debris of Palace Avenfaire... and yet she can’t quite imagine how the sight of that destruction could be more powerful – could bring her more completely to her metaphorical knees – than the man who sits before her now.

She takes note of his high spirits, however, as Lady Ascot sternly reminds him to stay put and not strain himself during their visit. “Helen and I will be across the hall. Just ring if you need anything.” He agrees easily enough and then the study door closes behind Alice’s mother and Lady Ascot, leaving her and Tarrant alone with her former employer, a man who is – by the sheer force of his will alone – unbroken despite the ravages that had been wrought upon his body.

“Alice! My dearest apprentice! How wonderful it is to see you again!”

Smiling, Alice leans down and gives Lord Townsend Ascot a kiss on his whiskery cheek. “And how wonderful it is to see you, again, sir.”

Alice leans back but keeps her hand on his arm as she’s unable to give him a brief embrace while he’s seated in that horrid chair. He smiles broadly up at her, his eyes twinkling.

“And you’re looking quite beamish today,” she informs him, belatedly realizing she’d used Outlandish.

He laughs. “Beamish? Well, why wouldn’t I be?” he replies. “It’s not every day I find a misplaced apprentice and have the pleasure of meeting her husband!”

At the prompt, Alice steps back and reaches for Tarrant. He moves closer, his hat held before him. “This is my husband,” she says, enjoying the thrill she gets from saying the words. As everyone in Underland knows precisely who he is and precisely who she is, introductions are a rare event, indeed! “Tarrant Hightopp, Esquire.”

“Hightopp,” Townsend muses as he shakes Tarrant’s offered hand. “What a remarkable name. It suits the man.”

“Thank you, sir. I endeavor to do it justice.” Tarrant hesitates for a moment, his green eyes shifting toward Alice. She nods in response to the look and the pulse of mild inquiry that vibrates from her Heart Mark. Yes, Tarrant can be himself with this delightfully open-minded man.

He continues, “And if I might be permitted to boldly say, sir, a name such as your own, which illustrates a fascinating fabrication of fabric, would be most Welcome, indeed, in our country.”

Townsend chuckles warmly. “I don’t believe the name Ascot has ever received observational insight to equal yours, Lord Hightopp.”

Tarrant grins mischievously. “Thank you, sir.”

“And this country you speak of intrigues me. Alice, my dear, as Hamish was frustratingly brief on the subject, I shall expect a full description from you. What sorts of commodities is it best suited for?”

Alice holds up a hand. “None of that, sir. I’m afraid we won’t be discussing trade opportunities today. We must keep the best interests of such a modest nation in mind... and I haven’t forgotten who taught me how to produce a credible bluff at the card table.” She winks despite the alarming thought of Lord Ascot approaching Mirana over a trade agreement. Dear Fate, but the man would eat her alive in a business negotiation!

He laughs. “Well, I suppose that must be the reason behind East Venture’s solid performance of late.”

“Without a doubt, sir. I was taught by a master.”

He sighs, his eyes twinkling with the dancing light of humor. “Well, if business opportunities with your mysterious nation must be crossed off of the agenda, then perhaps you’ll consent to a discussion of a more personal nature.” He waves them toward the nearby wingback chairs, between which rests a very accommodating tea service. Tarrant helps himself.

Alice nods, “If I can, I would be most happy to satisfy your curiosity.”

“Curiosity!” he blusters with mock outrage. “Whoever heard of such a word!”

“Inquisitiveness?” she counters, falling into their old game.

“My dear! That’s hardly any better! I’ll have you know businessmen of my caliber do not entertain such fanciful faults.”

Tarrant giggles softly, no doubt at the sudden appearance of words that noticeably begin with the letter F...

“Forgive me,” Alice continues, sending a twinge of humor out to her husband. “For I fear I’ve forgotten myself.”

“For shame,” Tarrant mutters behind his cup.

“Foolhardy,” she agrees.

Townsend Ascot laughs. “Oh, my dear. I must congratulate you; you have indeed found the one for you.”

“Fortunately, yes. Thank you, sir.” She smiles at Tarrant before turning her attention back to her father’s former business associate.

He sips his tea and a contemplative light enters his eyes. “Returning to the subject at hand, Alice, why-ever did it take so long for you to find your way back home?”

Alice resists heaving a sigh. She knows what he really wants to ask: Why didn’t you write us ages ago, young lady? “Did Hamish mention the civil unrest that was occurring at the time of my rescue?”

“He did, indeed. And something about a prophecy?”

Alice nods. “As you know far better than most, not all of the world is as ordered and logical as England. In many places, mysticism still commands the hearts and minds of the people that live under its spell. Tarrant’s homeland is one such place. I could not return before now for two reasons: first, I was needed; and, second, I could not in all good conscience abandon the people who had saved my life.”

Lord Ascot digests this for a long moment. “But Alice... two years and not a single word from you during all that time...?”

She winces. “This country I cannot speak of is unknown to the world and I was asked to keep its location a secret. How could I write when I knew a letter would...” Alice pauses, thinks furiously, struggles to explain. “If you’d received a letter from someone claiming to be me, claiming to be alive, would you have been satisfied with that?”

“No, I can’t imagine I would have been.”

“You would have sent someone to search for me. But I’d made a promise, sir. They’d saved my life at sea. The least I could do is keep their secret. I had to wait until I was able to make the journey in person. I’m just so sorry it’s taken so very long.”

In the moment of silence that follows, the warmth of Tarrant’s approval and pride settles over her heart. She reaches for her own cup of tea to have an excuse to meet his very impressed gaze and let him coax a smile out of her.

Townsend sighs. “Yes, I had rather thought it would be something like that. I imagine transport would have been rather the gamble to take during a civil war.”

Alice inclines her head, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

“But you’re here now and that’s all that matters!”

Her tentative smile widens.

He lifts his cup and murmurs in a significant tone: “And, dare I hope you might be willing to once again take up the mantle of your apprenticeship?”

Alice’s smile freezes. “My apprenticeship?”

A tendril of worry whispers within her chest before Tarrant manages to recall it.

“Yes, dear Alice. I can’t tell you what it would mean to me to know you’re with the company again. I need someone of sound imagination and vivid judgment at the helm. Hamish is a wonder with accounts and negotiations, but you, my dear, have a gift for inspiring others. A very useful skill I’ve yet to find a way to incorporate into the company training programme, I’m afraid.”

Alice clears her throat. “A most flattering and intriguing offer, sir,” she begins and is startled by Tarrant’s momentary panic and then forceful resignation. Oh, he’d expected something like this, had he? Well, then...

Alice sets the record straight, “I’m afraid this is only a temporary visit. We have obligations awaiting our return.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Tarrant’s shoulders relax and his hand lower his teacup to his thigh.

Townsend doesn’t look terribly surprised by the news. “Yes, I understand. I can’t say your refusal wasn’t expected, but I had hoped there might have been a bit of the old sparkle in your eyes when I made the offer.”

Alice briefly debates her next words before deciding their interests will be best served by being forthright with her former mentor. “Well, if it’s sparkle you’re looking for, a rather odd circumstance has caught my eye.”

“Oh?” he asks, genuinely interested. “What might that be?”

“The recent use of dynamite in the city to excavate the new Underground line... to Mansion House Station?”

He scowls. “Fools, the lot of them. Only concerned with expediency and expense. Never mind the integrity of London proper! Why, one would think we care nothing for our heritage here what with the way everyone is clamoring for clouds of dust and bits of mud and mortal falling from the sky!”

“Hm,” she agrees. “A very disturbing trend, is it not? I should like to look into that while I’m here. I’m sure there must be another solution. Something less... invasive.”

Townsend sets his cup and saucer aside and rubs his fingertips against his whiskery chin. Thoughtfully, he observes, “Loathe as I am to allow you to refuse a position with the company, I loathe these recent practices even more. Of course, Hamish neither has the time nor the necessary... poise and diplomacy something like this would require. I, myself, have toyed a bit with the idea of making the trip into town just to see what a bit of... clout might accomplish. However...”

Alice nods. “Yes, Hamish mentioned the physician’s... recommendations with regards to your health. And I have to say you’re fortunate to be spared the fumes and stink, sir.”

He very nearly snorts at that. “Diplomatic as always, Alice. Well, when the situation warrants it.”

“I aspire to that very objective, sir.”

“And you also aspire to disabuse those fools at the City Planning Commission of their illusions of great explosions and dramatic blasts?”

“I feel very passionately about this,” she says truthfully. “Despite no longer residing in England, I cannot bear the thought of things being blown up willy-nilly. That’s not the sort of thing England stands for, is it?”

“No, indeed not.” Townsend sighs. “Well, I suppose – were you to consent to this undertaking – I’d be seeing more of you. And perhaps you’d be extending your stay?”

“I dare say we might,” she allows. She happily makes the concession knowing where this conversation is going and delighted at the victory.

“However, I doubt very much you would be able to get very far with the Metropolitan District Railway, dear Alice. Not even with your charming husband at your side.” He taps his forefingers against his bearded chin. “At the very least, you would require a letter of introduction.”

“At the very least,” Alice agrees. “I don’t suppose you would know anyone of sufficient... clout who might be kind enough to write me one?”

“I know a fellow who might be interested, for the small price of requesting afternoon tea with the two of you upon occasion.”

Alice’s grin is wry. She lifts her teacup. “So that you might continue to fill our heads with the glories of the trade business?” She takes a sip.

Townsend laughs. “Quite, my dear. Quite.”

“Agreed,” she replies easily. Truly, spending time with her former mentor will not be a hardship at all!

“Excellent! Now, let us talk of more pleasant things while we wait for the solicitor to arrive.” Glancing at the clock, Townsend observes, “He’s late – again! – but he’d better not try to bill me for his horse throwing a shoe or the driver taking the wrong turn!”

“The solicitor?” Alice inquires, wondering if she ought to be worried.

“Oh, yes, of course,” he replies. “We can hardly expect a deceased woman to be taken seriously at the MDR Office, now can we? No, no, I’m afraid there’s no hope for it, Alice; you’ll have to be resurrected.”

“Ah. Yes, I imagine that will make things easier. Most especially for the delivery of the post.”

Townsend laughs. “I can always trust you to have your priorities in order!”

For a moment, Alice feels guilty at manipulating this man. No doubt she’ll be dipping into his fortune as well, or at least waving it around in the faces of the railway company. It’s not right that she has to play these shadowy, questionable games in order to secure Underland’s future. (And then, of course, there’s the chance that none of this will be enough to sway the engineers from their chosen digging method!) The ends do not justify the means. Or, at least, it doesn’t seem right that they ought to!

“Calm, Alice, please...” she can almost hear resonating from the mark along her arm, curving over her shoulder, and embedded in her heart.

She takes a deep breath and manages a shaky smile.

Luckily, Townsend has turned his attention to Tarrant. “It occurs to me, young man, that you aren’t properly accessorized for a business meeting of the magnitude that Alice will no doubt and all too soon be in the midst of.”

“That’s troublesome news,” he admits, although Alice finds herself entertained by the fact that he doesn’t identify which point is the more troublesome: the lack of proper accessories or the conferences he’ll have to endure. After a beat of silence, he continues, “I’ve always prided myself on being accessorized to match the occasion.”

“Well, then, we shall have to find you a good walking stick!” Townsend decides. Then, with the twinkle reappearing in his eyes, he nods toward the little bell placed on the table near his elbow. “I doubt this is what she had in mind when Lady Ascot left this here, but... let’s give it a try, shall we?”

Abruptly, Lord Ascot lifts the bell and, holding it high above his head and pointed in the general direction of the door, rings it most vigorously!

Alice covers her mouth with her hand to stop the snorts of laughter. Beside her, Tarrant has to set his cup down lest his convulsive cackling manage to upset the milky tea within it.

And when Lady Ascot bursts into the room, only to be met with the request for someone to please fetch his old walking sticks, the three of them do their best to look quite innocent and unassuming. It’s a hopelessly mad proposition, however. One that Alice had certainly not expected to encounter Up Here!


The sound of the pen scratching over the watermarked stationary tells Tarrant one thing: Alice is still working. In fact, she’s done nothing else other than sleep – too briefly! – and eat – too quickly! – since they’d returned to the Kingsleigh residence with a thoughtfully-provided copy of the Earl’s Court Project Plans tucked under her arm.

Tarrant pauses and reconsiders his thoughts. One in particular: “thoughtfully-provided.” Yes, they had been. But only after Alice had imperiously offered Lord Ascot’s letter of introduction had the man at the office even bothered to pay attention to what Tarrant’s Alice had been saying in very plain English:

“I’m here as a representative from Lord Townsend Ascot of East Venture Trading, who has expressed an interest in possibly contributing to Metropolitan District Railway’s most recent enterprise.”

And, at that point, Alice had paused, bravely refrained from glaring at the man who had been smiling down at her in a rather patronizing manner, and had removed the letter from Lord Ascot from her satchel.

It still enrages him to not only think of the horridly superficial views men here have of women, but to see those views in practice! He regrets not stepping in and grabbing that insufferable, useless lout by his starched ascot and shaking a good bit of sense into him.

Should have...

Yes, he should have.

Ye’ll b’ready next time, won’ ye, lad?

His left hand curls into a first. Yes, he will!

But at the moment, there are no annoyances here, in this room – the guest room in Alice’s mother’s house. Tarrant sighs, picks at his cravat, glances at the window and frowns at the increasingly familiar, uninspiringly smoke-grey, overcast sky beyond.

He is bored.

“You could help yourself to something in the library downstairs,” Alice says from the writing desk.

He looks up and gives her a sheepish grin. “Sorry.” The heart line had given him away again. He ought to keep a non-wandering thought or two on his own emotions!

Alice leans back and turns. She props her elbow up on the back of the chair, and smiles. “Or I suppose you could fetch your wife a cup of tea?”

“For her tired eyes or aching head?” he clarifies, already debating the best sort of Tea to bring her.

She gives him a self-depreciating grin.

“Ah, both, then,” he replies. “I shall make myself satisfyingly useful!” Alice is still chuckling in response to his declaration when he closes the door behind him and trip-tap-toddles down the stairs to the kitchen. He knocks before entering – for it would never Do to enter a chef’s Territory without permission! – but finds that the room is encouragingly vacant. He busies himself with putting a tea tray together, musing over tea trays themselves and the songs and rhymes he’d once sung about them, back in during time when teatime had been the cloak he’d pulled around himself to hide his role in the Resistance.

He’s glad that teatime is now merely for tea again. As it should be.

And, speaking of things that Should Be... and Should Not Be...

Tarrant hunts for the sugar bowl and creamer as he contemplates the letter from the queen and the now-dark mirror tucked away in Alice’s valise.

The queen should not have given them the choice to stay or return. For even through he’s aware of the unfairness of the situation, Tarrant knows the better strategy is for he and Alice to stay, to try to change the course of the future, which would be most impossible from the other side of the looking glass.

And, he can See why the queen might have asked them to remain Here: having met Alice’s mother and thinking of the littlin’ his Alice now carries, Tarrant understands the queen’s Desperation, which is quite different from her Duty. Mirana would do anything, ask anything to protect her children. Even ask the impossible of her Champion. Tarrant Understands this. And yet, despite that all-consuming impulse, Mirana had not been able to orderher friends to accept their fate, possibly give themselves for the Greater Good of All.

Still, it had been unbearably cruel for her to ask them to bear the weight of that decision themselves. Suppose it is the wrong one? Suppose their efforts somehow bring about the destruction of Underland that much sooner? Suppose—


He startles but, thankfully, the empty cream pitcher in his hand doesn’t slip through his fingers and crash to the floor. “Good afternoon, Madam Kingsl—er, Helen,” he replies, flustered. “I was just making up a tea tray for Alice.”

“She’s still working?”

“As hard as ever,” he replies. “I wish I could comprehend that Business Language of hers and Lord Ascot’s. Or, at the very least, loan her a fresh pair of eyes.”

“I know the sentiments you speak of intimately,” his mother-in-law responds, moving toward an odd, up-standing wooden box and opening the door. She removes a decanter and returns to the tea tray he’s assembling on the table. He watches as she fills the cream pitcher. “It was also my husband’s business, you know. I was never able to speak that language, either.”

“From the look of Alice, it doesn’t lend itself to being Read, either,” Tarrant observes, sorting out the cups and saucers. “A more unsociable language I’ve yet to encounter!”

Helen’s laugh sounds like a sigh.

Tarrant reaches for the water kettle, which had just begun to hiss upon the stove, and wonders aloud, “Might... might I impose upon you to ask a... personal question, madam?”

“You may.”

Tarrant swallows down his anxiety and gathers up his muchness. “I realize that I am not... an ideal spouse for your daughter and that I am lacking in many ways—”

Helen pats his arm, interrupting him gently yet firmly. “Perhaps I should have made my position more clear earlier.” She takes a deep breath and glances at the tea tray, which is ready to be delivered. “Why don’t you take that up to Alice and I’ll prepare tea for us?

He does. Alice is still engrossed in the intimidating manuscript, so he pours and prepares her tea, sets the cup on the corner of the desk, brushes his fingers through her short hair, and then returns downstairs to keep his appointment with Mrs. Kingsleigh.

Tarrant finds her in the library, already seated. He pours tea for the both of them and serves the richly-hued, butter-yellow cake. When he takes his own seat and looks up, Helen is smiling. He wonders about that smile, but before he can ask, she speaks, “I’ve gotten the impression that things are quite different in your country. Quite different from England, I mean.”

“Yes,” he agrees. “Many things. For instance, this odd idea that somehow women are not suited to business. With a queen – as in Und—ah, my homeland – I would have expected women to hold more prominent positions in society.”

Helen tilts her head to the side in much the same way that Alice does when in agreement with something. “I can only imagine how strange our ways may seem to you.” She sighs.

“This family enjoys a solid standing in London which comes from generations of success and respectable deeds. Social standing is quite important here as it will either guarantee the future of a family or ensure its ruin. When Lowell –” Tarrant is intrigued by the sour expression on Helen’s face as she says her son-in-law’s name. “– asked for Margaret’s hand, I could not have been more thrilled, more relieved. The Manchester family has a long, proud history and social standing even higher than ours. It was a most advantageous match. However...”

Tarrant feels himself lean forward and hides a smile at the thought that he must be borrowing Alice’s Curiosity for stories and tales.

“As a son-in-law, he leaves much to be desired. The drinking, the... indiscretions...” She shakes her head. “That you appear to be a man quite apart from his ilk, I am very thankful for.”

Tarrant feels himself blush.

“And, what’s done is done. Alice has chosen you. And, as I said the other day, I believe she has chosen well. I shall have to trust you not to disappoint her, as Lowell has disappointed Margaret.”

“I will not,” he swears. In truth, it would be quite impossible for him to! “But... I know you... that is, did you not choose the younger Lord Ascot to be her husband at one time? Or approved of the... match?”

Helen finishes her tea and Tarrant attends to her cup, refilling it and then fixing it as he’d noticed she’d taken it. Again, that satisfied smile appears on her thin lips. When he sits back, she picks up her cup, takes a sip, and her smile widens.

“You’re quite familiar with the mechanics of tea,” she observes.

“I pride myself on it, madam!”

Helen sets her cup down and, her smile fading, answers his question: “Yes, at the time, I had thought Hamish would be a good choice for Alice. Charles had recently passed. The company had been sold. I knew I would have to be very careful with our funds.”

She looks down into the depths of her sweetened tea. “The death of one’s spouse brings to light how very... fragile and uncertain life is, despite the order we impose upon it. One day, when I am gone, who will look after Alice? I would not be able to provide for her after my death and no mother wants her children to be destitute. That was my main concern, you see. Hamish could see my conundrum and offered to...”

Tarrant winces at the thought of another man looking after his Alice.

“Of course, I’d underestimated how very stubborn my daughter is,” Helen continues with a smile. “But of course a conventional life would never fit her. Of course she would choose the unmarked path. And, in the end, it was the right decision.”

He releases the breath he’d been holding and offers his mother-in-law a trembling smile. “I’m beyond relieved to hear you say that. And thank you for the confidence.”

Helen tilts her head again, acknowledging his appreciation. “I ask only one thing of you, Tarrant.” She looks up at him, a hard light in her eyes. “Do not force me to regret it.”

“Although,” she continues before he can open his mouth to reassure her, “I have faith that you won’t. This teatime with you has spoken volumes of your character.”

“And, you have enjoyed what it’s told you?” he dares to confirm.

“I have indeed.” She sets her cup aside and stands. Remembering the courtly manners Alice has been leading him through since their arrival, Tarrant stands as well. “And now I think it is time to prepare for dinner. We’ll be dining at the Manchester House tonight with Margaret and Lowell. I trust you’ll find a way to separate Alice from her work and make sure she’s ready to go by six-thirty?”

“You can count on me, madam.”

“I am, Tarrant. I most assuredly am.”


The problem, Alice reflects, is not so much the dubious comprehensibility of the project plan itself (although that is a rather irksome obstacle to be dealt with) nor is the problem her lack of recent experience in the world of business (and this endeavor is demonstrating how very ill-suited she is to such pursuits); the problem is the lack of alternatives she can offer the railway company in lieu of the very effective application of explosives to aid in tunnel excavation.

Alice wanders the halls of London’s museum of natural science and modern technology (all housed within a depressingly industrial building known as Brompton Boilers), her hand on Tarrant’s arm and her mind all the way across town, still seated at the writing desk in the guest room. She is aware that her mind is quite obviously Elsewhere when it ought to be here, participating in this outing with her mother, sister, nephew, and husband. Alice would have felt painfully guilty over her distraction if the issue that has her mind so preoccupied weren’t of the most Vital Importance. For how is she going to answer her queen’s hopes if she cannot even formulate one strategy for delaying this abomination of a project?

Tarrant senses her preoccupation and he respects it. He leaves her to her thoughts and lingers over placards, studies printed explanations and directs his questions to either Alice’s mother or sister.

She still marvels at the fact that Tarrant had somehow managed to develop a easy rapport with her mother. And the glimmer of wonderment in Margaret’s eyes might have left Alice feeling rather proud of herself for her choice of husband if not for what her sister’s reaction implies:

Whenever Tarrant poses a question to her elder sister, he considers her reply carefully and with both complete sincerity and his complete attention. It’s quite obvious that Margaret is unused to this sort of frank and genuine exchange, which means that Lowell rarely asks for or listens to his wife’s thoughts. It saddens Alice that her brother-in-law is such a waste of a human being. And it saddens her even more to think of the experiences, the joy, the life he’s wasting by neglecting Margaret so horridly.

Alice attempts to turn away from those thoughts as Margaret warms to her explanation of the Earth’s seasons and why the north and south hemispheres vary in their patterns. The briefest glance shows Tarrant to be utterly absorbed in the lecture. Margaret glows under the attention.

Oh, how Alice wishes there were something she could do to help her sister with her marriage, but that is not why she and Tarrant are Here. They had not come through the looking glass to enlighten Margaret to her husband’s shortcomings nor to help her try to change him (an impossible task if there ever was one!) but to save an entire world.

Focus on that, Alice!

She does.

She turns her thoughts back to the Earl’s Court Project Plan and the excavation methodologies outlined therein. It’s beyond frustrating that she must wrestle with unnecessarily esoteric engineering patter. And the worst part of it all is that, as a man, Lord Ascot would have been permitted to demand a clear explanation of the terms used. But, as a woman, Alice knows should she make the same undeniably reasonable request she will be regarded as stupid, unprofessional, and an annoyance.

The unfairness of it all is enough to drive her truly mad!

“Alice,” Tarrant whispers in her ear, beneath the brim of her hat, and she focuses on drawing a deep, measured breath.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Will you tell me what’s troubling you now?”

Alice sighs and, exhausted from struggling with this all on her own, relents. “Clayey silt, fill loads, settlement values, soil consolidation...” she lists a few of the more mystifying terms she’d encountered in the plan. “If you happen to know what any of those mean, I’ll Futterwhacken right here!”

Tarrant snorts, giggles, and smiles. His green eyes are luminous as they are wont to be whenever Alice manages to charm him unexpectedly. “I truly regret the loss of the opportunity to see you Futternwhacken for me, my Alice, but I’m afraid I haven’t the slightest idea what any of those things are.”

He covers her gloved hand, resting in the crook of his elbow, with his own and squeezes her fingers. “However, I do have an Idea...”

Alice feels her brows lift with surprise.

With a crafty smile, Tarrant turns his chin away and a calls, “Pardon us, ladies!”

Just up ahead her mother and sister are murmuring over a display of exotic birds from the South Pacific. They look up at Tarrant’s just-loud-enough announcement.

“Might we make a detour to assist Alice with a few vexing engineering terms?”

As Helen helps Margaret get Winslow’s child carriage turned around, Tarrant leads Alice over to the museum guide map which had been posted on the wall nearby. “It’s lucky I asked what was troubling you as we passed by this helpful feature, isn’t it?”

“Quite the coincidence,” Alice agrees, a suspicion beginning to form in her mind.

“Hm. Yes. Now, let’s see...” He leans close to the framed building layout and studies it with singular intensity. “Perhaps the department of geology? If I’m not mistaken, one of those pesky phrases had sounded a bit clay-ish. And then... yes! Here.” He taps the glass with a be-cottoned fingertip. “Perhaps the London City Earthworks Exhibit will assist with a few of the others?”

Alice knows she’s gaping at him when, with a brief nod of satisfaction, he turns away from the museum guide.

“Alice?” he asks, obviously Entertained (but trying very hard to look Puzzled) by her silent ogling.

“I... adore you,” she confesses. Now she understands why he’d insisted on visiting Brompton Boilers today!

Tarrant blinks, smiles, and indulges in a brief giggle. “So you approve of today’s distraction after all?”

Alice feels ashamed of herself for her notably less-than-enthusiastic agreement over his suggested plan-for-the-day this morning. It hadn’t been the destination that had irritated her – she’d been planning to bring him here eventually, after all! – it had been the timing! But now she sees that, true to form, Tarrant’s timing is, in fact, utterly Perfect!

She aches to remove her gloves and press her bare hands against his cheeks and kiss him soundly. She settles for: “You are, without a doubt, the most saganistute man alive, Tarrant Hightopp.”

He preens; she can see it in his incandescent smile and abundantly fluffed cravat.  Even the unimpressively straight lapels of his jacket seem to stand at attention!

She muses aloud, suspicions nearly all confirmed now, but wanting to hear him Admit it: “How did you know I was struggling so badly with that report?”

He admits bashfully, “I took the liberty of looking over your notes last night.”

While she’d been in the bath. Of course. She wraps her other hand around his arm and leans closer. “Well, I’m very glad you did. Nosey Parker.”

His bushy eyebrows fly up toward the brim of his hat and his bright green eyes blink owlishly. “No, no, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. No Parkers here, Alice, only Hatters.”

“A wonderfully wise, incorrigibly curious, munificently mad one,” she agrees.

Only a man possessed of a genius this mad would have thought to drag her away from her questions to the one place where she’ll be able to educate herself on the solutions! Only a man so used to and accepting of her innate stubbornness would have formulated this plan and implemented it without pressing her to reveal her frustrations before she was ready!

Smiling now, Alice chats with her mother and sister as they make their way to the geology exhibits... where Alice gets a much better idea of what clayey silt actually is! And then they tramp across the building to the civil engineering exhibits and Alice finds herself staring at a display dedicated to the 18-year-long construction of the Thames Tunnel.

Alice devours the information on the display, her smile widening.

“Raven?” Tarrant murmurs, no doubt feeling her excitement buzzing along his heart line.

Alice tightens her fingers around his arm and whispers back, “I know what to do next.”

She looks up, feeling as if her entire being has been remade from pure hope.

Tarrant beams. “Then, what are we waiting for?”

And with that, Alice turns toward her mother and sister and makes their apologies for their abrupt and hasty departure.

One Promise Kept: Book 3

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 10 of 22

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